NFL Free Agents 2016: Latest Rumors and Predictions Ahead of Market's Opening

Andrew Gould@AndrewGould4Featured ColumnistMarch 5, 2016

FILE - In this Jan. 6, 2016 file photo, Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III eyes the receiver during NFL football practice at Redskins Park in Ashburn, Va. Griffin has cleared out his locker at Redskins Park and is expected to be let go by the team that dealt a trove of draft picks for the right to pick him No. 2 overall in  2012. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)
Manuel Balce Ceneta/Associated Press

When the NFL's free-agency period officially opens on March 9, big names and ample cap space will cause a hectic and hyperactive market.

As teams part ways with former fixtures, those formerly overpaid stars will draw interest as someone else's cost-effective reclamation project. One former franchise cornerstone in particular is set to have multiple suitors knocking at his door.

Teams can't yet contact available players and reach agreements, but the rumor mill isn't shackled to anti-tampering regulations. Now that the stove is dialed up in preparation for free agency, let's take a look at chatter surrounding a few marquee names.

Robert Griffin III

Steven Senne/Associated Press

Quarterbacking is a sweet gig. Just ask Joe Flacco and Sam Bradford. If a solid, above-average passer warrants a $40 million signing bonus while an inconsistent signal-caller with an injury-riddled past garners a two-year deal with guaranteed money, somebody will surely gamble on Robert Griffin III.

The 26-year-old fell out of favor in Washington, the team that paid a king's ransom to snag him with the No. 2 pick in the 2012 NFL draft. While the club has yet to officially release him, team president Bruce Allen already confirmed he'll play elsewhere next year.

Washington has until Wednesday to release him to avoid a $16 million cap hit. According to Bleacher Report's Mike Freeman, a handful of organizations are waiting to give him a second chance:

Despite all that we know about Robert Griffin III, according to interviews with a half-dozen front-office talent evaluators, he remains the most intriguing figure in the free-agent sweepstakes that begin this month. There are at least 10 teams giving Griffin a hard look, these sources say.

Maybe 15. Maybe more.

Unless a bidding war spirals his cost out of control, why not take the risk? When the alternatives are Ryan Fitzpatrick and Chase Daniel, a talented young playmaker with ample upside proves a much more exciting option.

Also, Griffin's downfall has been greatly exaggerated. Over 37 career games, he sports greater passing efficiency than the now obscenely rich Flacco:

Robert Griffin III vs. Joe Flacco
CMP %63.960.9
QB RTG90.684.7

Freeman cited the Los Angeles Rams, Cleveland Browns and Houston Texans as the three most-likely landing spots. As evident by the heightened number of intrigued teams, even squads with a starter will probably keep tabs on him as a high-reward reserve. Yet with so many options, Griffin should at least land somewhere he will compete for the starting job.

The Rams buying low on Griffin would be worth it for the irony alone, but they also desperately need an upgrade after ranking last in passing offense last year. Joining forces with star running back Todd Gurley could help recreate RG3's 2012 success in a run-heavy offense allowing him to burn defenses with his legs and on play-action passes. 

They can't market their big move to Los Angeles behind Nick Foles, but Griffin still carries some star power. More importantly, he's talented enough to orchestrate their first winning season since 2003. The Rams have resided in mediocrity for too long, so it's time to go big before moving to their new home.

Prediction: Griffin signs a short-term contract with Rams

Peyton Manning

One other giant wild card remains unresolved. Will Peyton Manning lace up for one more season? If he does, will anyone want him?

According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, the future Hall of Famer prefers to keep playing on the heels of tagging along for the Denver Broncos' Super Bowl title:

His free agency created a massive stir four years ago, but he'd probably only draw a whimper this time around. Manning, who turns 40 later this month, registered a career-low 67.8 quarterback rating during the regular season, tossing 17 interceptions in 10 games. 

He wasn't much better in the playoffs, averaging 5.84 yards per pass attempt with a 55.4 completion percentage. Denver beat the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50 in spite of the veteran passer, who accrued 141 yards with no touchdowns and two turnovers. Pro Football Focus' Sam Monson implored Manning to call it a career:

Given his current abilities, he couldn't have asked for a better ending. Not only did the Broncos mask his flaws, they gave him a second ring to make up for years of carrying less talented Indianapolis Colts teams just shy of glory. Barring an unlikely return to Denver, which may be better off retaining free agent Brock Osweiler, he wouldn't even take a quarterback-needy franchise into the postseason.

Unless he goes back to Indianapolis to coach Andrew Luck and finish his career where he started it, sticking around makes little sense. Along with all of his sponsorships, he'll probably have offers for cushy gigs as a color commentator or studio analyst.

Prediction: Manning retires

Adam Jones

Frank Victores/Associated Press

When not getting him confused with the Baltimore Orioles outfielder, onlookers will now remember Adam Jones for his personal foul penalty costing his Cincinnati Bengals a playoff bout against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Before the untimely gaffe, Jones continued his transformation from a big-play talent and headache to a strong starting cornerback. Per's Mike Garafolo, the 32-year-old said he's just now hitting his stride:

"You take a look at my career, I played three years of football—two in Tennessee, one in Dallas—all of that was on natural ability. I know it seems like I've been around a long time, but my body hasn't gotten to play that much football, just because of circumstances of where I was at."

The teams lining up to negotiate with him agree. Yahoo Sports' Charles Robinson reported a possible reunion with the Dallas Cowboys, who will likely cut cornerback Brandon Carr after a disappointing stint in Dallas. Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio verified Dallas' interest, but he also added the Bengals, Browns, Oakland Raiders, Miami Dolphins and Minnesota Vikings to the mix. 

Cincinnati's entire starting secondary will hit the open market, so keeping them all will prove difficult. The Dolphins spent big before, and they need cornerback help after surrendering 7.8 yards per pass attempt last year.

They also hired Vance Joseph, who worked with Jones as Cincinnati's defensive backs' coach, as their defensive coordinator. Look for Jones to either join or replace Brent Grimes in Miami's starting lineup.

Prediction: Jones signs with Miami Dolphins